What couldn’t Jeep Davis do?
A high school football and track star – garnering enough points to singlehandedly win Barberton High the state track championship his senior year — he attended Ohio State University on a track scholarship. Despite not playing college football, he would go on to play two seasons in the NFL.
A serious injury derailed his football career, so it was back to track, as a coach at Cornell University, before moving back to his hometown and becoming a teacher.
The one thing that was consistent throughout these achievements: Davis’s blazing speed, which carried him to three Olympic gold medals.
Nicknamed after a character in Popeye cartoon strip, Davis was the youngest of 10 siblings. At age 15, he was sent to live with an older brother after his parents died on consecutive days.
Davis was still relatively inexperienced at the 400-meter hurdles when he traveled to the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games. He had just started competing in the event the previous school year at Ohio State, setting blistering times, including a world record of 49.5 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Trials. In Melbourne, Davis tied an Olympic record with a 50.1-second run to capture the gold medal.
At the Rome 1960 Olympic Games, Davis broke his Olympic record, taking gold in 49.3 seconds. He then ran the third leg for the Americans in the 4×400-meter relay as they set a world record and won another gold medal.
Given all he had accomplished, Davis had one regret. He participated in many different events throughout his track career, but never gave it a go in the decathlon, even though he regularly trained with the standout Rafer Johnson, who took silver in the Melbourne decathlon and gold in Rome.
“I know I would have won,” Davis said in an interview in 2000, ever confident in himself. “I used to compete with Rafer in practice and beat him.”
Davis passed away in 2009. He was 74.